Authenticity at work

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a workshop about being authentic at work.  The workshop was run by Inclusive Recruiting, an organisation who aim to eradicate bias and inequities from the workplace and was presented by Andreena Leeanne, a lived experience speaker, self-care workshop facilitator, poet and author. This blog post was inspired by that workshop.

What does it mean to be authentic

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word authentic as ‘of undisputed origin and not a copy: genuine.’ The word has traditionally been applied to documents, works of art or antiques, however more recently the word has been applied to people, who are seen as authentic or fake, particularly in a work setting or online. Think Chandler Bing’s work laugh in Friends and you get the idea.

In this recent context, being an authentic person means knowing who you are and what you stand for and creating a space for yourself in the world where you feel happy and confident to be yourself at all times – a space where you can be unapologetically you, showing your personality and being the same at work as you are away from it.

Sounds easy huh? However many people have experienced situations where they feel unable to be themselves. You may, like Chandler, have felt you need to act a certain way around your boss and colleagues, telling people what you think they want to hear, so that you will be liked, accepted or promoted. You may have hidden aspects of yourself and developed survival mechanisms to get through the day, so instead of being yourself, you have played a role. It can be exhausting and in doing so you are living inauthentically.

In order to be authentic you need to identify and live according to your values and be willing to live your life proudly, displaying your true colours, regardless of pressure you may be under to act otherwise. Being authentic isn’t easy. People may fear rejection, getting hurt or being ridiculed, so the fear of being judged and the need to fit in often prevents this. However, authenticity has many benefits for both employers and employees. 

Benefits of being authentic

  • Relationships
    People who are able to be their authentic self, tend to attract people to them. Honest, open, character traits generally make it easier for people to trust and build long term relationships with you and in return they will be more likely to be the same with you.
  • Love what you do
    A passion for work is more likely to lead to success than doing work you don’t enjoy. Following your passions will enable you to do what you love, leaving you motivated and eager to achieve.
  • Confidence
    If you are being authentic at work, it will enable you to be more productive, confident in your opinions, happy to share your ideas and unafraid to speak up.
  • Happiness
    If you are happy in your work because you have good working relationships, you are confident in your role and you love what you do, you will feel safe and secure in your working environment. 

Overall being authentic is much more fulfilling than trying to be the person you think other people will approve of or trying to please everyone. As the saying goes ‘You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’

The other side of the story

Despite its potential benefits, oversharing or being overly honest can have a downside, obviously there are socially acceptable norms to consider and there are people who will take advantage of a kind and open nature. Also, while much of authenticity is about individuals knowing themselves and being comfortable with who they are, in order to be their authentic self, employees need to feel safe, therefore it is the responsibility of employers to create safe environments which bring out the best in their employees too. 

Employer honesty is integral to developing an authentic work culture. Shouting from the roof tops about diversity and discrimination, is all worthless, if when faced with the people they claim to support, the employer does nothing to support them. In order to create inclusive environments where employees can be their authentic self, employers need to be able to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk, so as to uphold their own values.

From the Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan.

Some of the ways employers can create safe spaces include: 

  • leading with empathy at all times 
  • not making assumptions about people
  • listening and responding to feedback 
  • creating safe spaces for difficult conversations 
  • using educational material and events to encourage authenticity and inclusivity at all times 
  • creating opportunities for people to be their authentic self
  • establishing buddying and mentoring initiatives
  • supporting personal and professional development 
  • offering learning opportunities, coaching and mentoring 
  • investing in leaders. 

Tips for being authentic 

Think you would like to be more authentic at work? Below are some things to try out.

  • Identify your values and aim to live by them at all times.
  • Identify who you are and don’t try to be someone that you are not. If you feel there is a difference between who you are at work and who you are outside of it, consider what you can do to bridge the gap.
  • Communicate honestly, respect the feelings of others but don’t play games or use passive aggressive behaviour to get what you want and don’t make promises you cannot keep.
  • Develop self confidence – being authentic is not for the faint hearted. Developing a strong sense of yourself and being assertive, will give you the necessary tools to get you through challenging situations.

What are your thoughts on authenticity at work? Do you consider yourself to be an authentic person or do you have different versions of yourself for different people and situations? Want to learn more about the subject, take a look at the websites below.


Further information

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